Monthly Archives: February 2014

ERIC CHURCH THE OUTSIDERS

ERIC CHURCH – THE OUTSIDERS – Destined To Be A “Broke Record”

When it gets to the end I gotta play it again and again”

     On the surface, it would appear that Eric Church and Taylor Swift have little in common. Their careers briefly crossed paths as Eric was exiting a Rascal Flatts tour and Taylor was taking the stage as their new opening act. If there is a common thread to be found between them, it is that they are both prolific songwriters. I doubt they’ll ever write together or sing a duet, but there is one song that seems to speak for both of them. One of Taylor’s biggest hits from her recent album, RED, was a song called “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Though Taylor never reveals who her songs are written about, it’s safe to assume there is some guy out there who has no chance of ever winning her back. Ever. If you’ve listened to Eric Church’s new album, The Outsiders, it’s evident that he has cut something out of his life for good as well. Whether he’s talking about the way records used to be made in Nashville, the underbelly that is the Nashville recording industry, or someone specific, Eric’s voice on this album is clearly shouting “WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER. LIKE EVER!”

     After the chart topping success of Eric’s last two albums, Chief, and Caught In the Act (Live), anticipation was high for his new project. Little was revealed about what Eric had in mind for this one, but waiting for Eric to make his next move is like watching the most intense chess game ever. At the ACM Awards in 2013, Eric’s album, Chief, was recognized as the Album of the Year. This is the equivalent of the Academy of Country Music giving you their seal of approval. In an article written about that win, the writer surmised that Eric had taken a step into the embrace of Nashville and was no longer considered an outsider. The writer was even bold enough to state that Eric had entered the new “mainstream of Music City.” I don’t know how much press Eric reads about himself, but I imagine if he read that, this is where he decided to make his next move. Just when Nashville insiders officially welcomed him into the fold, Eric names his next project The Outsiders. CHECK.

     The first time I heard the song “The Outsiders” when it was released as a single, I was blown away by the power it gave off in its delivery. This was no acoustic lullaby, unless you’re used to falling asleep to Metallica. I kept playing it over and over, getting more excited about it each time I listened to it. No one unleashes a song like this as the first single off their new album unless they’re holding the dynamite to back it up. This move gave me the distinct impression that Eric was about to wage a war and this song was his opening shot. I was practically giddy thinking about what he had planned for this album. Looking back, I’m not sure what tickled me more, the thought of what might be on this album or Nashville’s reaction to it.

     Prior to the February 11 release date, two more songs from the album were released. “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” were the next two warning shots fired. Another brilliant move on the chess board. Country radio was giving some airplay to “Give Me Back My Hometown,” giving it that mainstream Nashville seal of approval. Maybe they were thinking that Eric would ease off the throttle a little with the rest of this album and give them something they could put in rotation. Perish the thought! “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” is one of those TKOs you don’t feel until you’re lying on the mat. I can’t think of a softer delivery of a song that has ever packed such a punch. The music here won’t knock you out, but the lyrics will. This one will flat out take your breath away. The winners of this match are Eric Church and Jeremy Spillman for their gloves off songwriting.

     When the rest of this album dropped at the stroke of midnight on February 11, seismic activity was reported in Nashville. Thank goodness for the secrecy of the iTunes download! Too bad there aren’t statistics available for the number of times this album got downloaded that night within the confines of the Music City zip code. Order up the champagne for EMI Records Nashville and pass the tylenol to those naïve academy members who thought their pat on the back would make Eric Church sit still and play nice. On that notion, The Outsiders dropped “Like A Wrecking Ball.” I decided not to download the album that night. Something this powerful, I wanted to hold in my hand, so I dropped my daughter off at school and drove straight to Target that morning. Suffice it to say that the speakers in my SUV got a workout on the drive home and had there been a cop following me, I likely would have been pulled over for driving erratically. Hey, it’s Eric Church! Practically in full out hyperventilation by the time I’d finished listening to it, I kept thinking that no one makes records like this anymore! Who is this guy? Members of the “27 Club” were flashing through my mind in the way they boldly made music in their time and unleashed it on a naïve and unsuspecting public. Albums from the 60s and 70s had a distinct sound to them and the music told a story. The songs unfolded like chapters from a book. That was the advantage of vinyl records. Skipping around on the album brought the danger of potentially scratching it and ruining your favorite songs. Albums were usually listened to in their entirety. Every album had songs that stood out of course, but kids who grew up during that time period can still easily call to mind their favorite albums. No one from this era wore out a song; they wore out albums from playing them over and over and over.

     Much has already been written about how different this album sounds as a whole, the range of sounds found in the songs on it, and how groundbreaking for a record made in Nashville it is. In the groundbreaking category I’d say it’s like taking a sledge hammer to the Grand Ole Opry. Not to say that Eric doesn’t appreciate the history of the place, I think he’s just decided to make a little music history of his own. There are a few songs on this album that will get some radio airplay and possibly be part of an Eric Church greatest hits album some day, but its greater impact will be felt in the album as a whole. This album succeeds in turning back the hands of time to a place where musicians created albums that were intensely personal and reflected who they were as a singer or as a band. If there was a message they wished to convey, they told it through the music. Album titles and cover art were as important to the project as every individual song on it. These albums revealed a thought process that is entirely lacking in much of mainstream music today. Many of the current hitmakers reveal nothing more than a dollars and cents approach to an endgame. In 50 years no one will remember these songs or the albums they came from. It’s been nearly 50 years since we lost Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin, and yet we’re still talking about them and the music they made. Each of these musical pioneers made bold statements with their music and took risks most people weren’t willing to take at that time.

     Fans of Eric Church are going to love this album. Music fans who might not necessarily be country music fans are going to like it too. It has a very broad appeal in its diversity. Credit should be given to the team of people who made this album, including Jay Joyce and Arturo Buenahora, Jr. who produced it, and the songwriters who created the pieces that make up this powerful story: Casey Beathard, Eric Church, Monty Criswell, Michael Heeney, Lynn Hutton, Luke Laird, Travis Meadows, Jeremy Spillman, and Ryan Tyndell. The quality of the songwriting on this album is what makes it the powerful statement that it is. I have no doubt that Eric Church was the mastermind behind this record and the passion he felt for the project is evident in the finished product. It says a lot about the musician and the man to feel strongly enough about something so personal to risk putting it out there for the world to hear and take a gamble on the reaction to it. At a time when money trumps all else, Eric Church made his move with this record and EMI Records Nashville saw fit to let him make it. If the music industry in Nashville is like a chess game with the powers that be moving their pawns at will, Eric Church made the winning move when it was his turn to play and won this game with the boldest move Music City has seen in a good long while. Winning a chess game requires putting your opponent’s king in a position where the threat you just made cannot be removed. I can imagine Eric sitting opposite the devil he talks about in this album, pondering his next move, hiding his intentions behind those aviator sunglasses, and making his decisive move only when he’s damn good and ready to. CHECKMATE “Devil, Devil.”

From WAY North of Nashville…..Bev Miskus

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To preview and purchase thru iTunes click this link: THE OUTSIDERS

ERIC CHURCH – THE OUTSIDERS – THE OUTSIDERS
©2014Bev Miskus

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THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED: PIRATING MUSIC ONLINE

     February 9, 1964, The Beatles made television and music history. 73 million people tuned in to watch them perform live on the Ed Sullivan Show that night. It was their first American television appearance. This past Sunday night marked the 50th anniversary of that historic day and if you tuned in to watch the CBS special, it was plain to see that we’re still as awed by them now as we were then. Even if you weren’t here to witness The Beatles invasion, I’ll bet you can hum a few Beatles tunes. That’s how iconic their songbook is. These songs now belong to the world. If you’re old enough to have a few decades under your belt, you can probably recount your youth through the songs you listened to. Certain songs bring back special memories. Some happy. Some sad. These songs make up the soundtracks of our lives and become as precious as any possession could be. For many, music is their escape from whatever pains them. It motivates, soothes, and encourages. For some, music IS their life.

      Not all that long ago, we waited for records to come out. Actual vinyl records. If there was a record you really wanted, you saved your allowance money, went to the record store, and bought it. If you were the first amongst your friends to have this treasure in your possession, a listening party ensued. One’s popularity often depended upon having a record player or stereo system that could play these magical discs. If you couldn’t afford to buy the record, you listened to it at a friend’s house or kept your ears glued to the radio. Those were the options. Stealing a record from the store was almost unheard of.

      Enter the digital age. According to a study that was done at Columbia University in 2012, the majority of people no longer buy music. They steal it. The results of this study showed that 70% of 18 to 29 year olds pirate music online. Kids! But wait, 46% of all other adults are doing the same thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I find those numbers shocking. Apparently this activity is so prevalent in our society that it’s now considered the norm and an acceptable practice. What?! I had heard recently that record labels don’t make money off the records. They make their money off the merchandise and concert tickets. Ok. Let’s follow that gravy train for a minute. At a concert I attended recently, I happened across a guy in an RV outside the venue selling knock-off concert tshirts to young kids after the show. I reported this incident and was told that, unfortunately, this happens a lot and they try to keep up with it, but some of it still slips through. So there goes some of the profits from the merchandise sales. Going into the concert that night, I was approached by at least six different people trying to sell me concert tickets. What kind of tickets they had, where they got them, how much they wanted for them, and whether or not they were real, were all things I didn’t take the time to find out. Everyone knows there’s only one real ticket pimp – Ticketmaster! Everyone also knows that if you want to buy a ticket to a Luke Bryan concert, you don’t just call Luke up, pay him, and he drops off the ticket (as nice as that would be!). We get to wade through the shark-infested waters that await when trying to buy concert tickets from the many online vendors. The “services” they provide are not free to the artist. They get a bite out of those profits too! And let’s not forget distribution of that music for that small percentage of us who are still actually paying for the music we want. Retailers and everybody’s favorite digital music vending machine – iTunes – gets their cut too! I think those profits just became a deficit. Hey! I live near Washington DC! We invented the deficit!! Maybe I can help with this one!

      For those of you who are not familiar with the term “deficit,”  a deficit occurs when you spend more than you bring home. Yes, I know. For most of us, that’s called “The Only Way I Know.” (Jason Aldean, Night Train) So with all of this nonprofit from the music going on, how exactly is the music still being made? Obviously there’s some profit being made somewhere, but the question is for how long. Suddenly I’m beginning to understand why the price of concert tickets keeps going up. What’s bothersome about this whole issue is the cavalier attitude people seem to have on the subject of pirating music online. Young adults are of the opinion that if they’re buying the concert tickets, that should cover enough profit for the artists so they don’t feel the least bit guilty about stealing the songs. It seems to be a general consensus that all artists are filthy rich so what’s the big deal? Sigh. Let’s set aside that snapshot and look at the bigger picture.

      Just for the sake of someone real to look at, let’s stick with Luke Bryan. He’s living the high life, right? Got everything he could possibly want! Living his dream! That may all be true, but contrary to popular belief, Luke is not a one-man operation. The making of a successful music career these days is no small task. The vast majority of hopeful singers, songwriters, and musicians who descend on Nashville every year will never make it. You’ll never hear of them. They may spend years singing and playing in smoky bars and still never earn a decent living. The ones who do generally have help somewhere along the way. Once they’re signed by a record label, then the fun really begins. It’s not like winning the lottery. Sign the contract and boom, sit back and watch the money roll in! If you’ve ever read the liner notes in a CD – oh wait, you don’t buy CDs. The names of all those people it took to make that record are listed in those liner notes, and everyone of them expects a paycheck. Then there’s the marketing team who has to promote this great record. They all get paid too! Now that the record’s been made, Luke gets to spend the vast majority of his life on a bus or an airplane or some mode of transportation delivering him from one event to another. If you followed Luke at all last year you should know that he was EVERYWHERE! I think he was even in two places at the same time frequently. Getting Luke to all these places takes a village as well. Look behind one of those concert venues sometime. It looks like a small traveling city has just relocated. Truck drivers, road crews, security teams, band members, tour managers, people for the people who need people, and Luke! Again, all these people expect a paycheck! Suddenly all those big profits aren’t sounding so profitable. Ever wonder why your favorite artists continually hawk their wares on twitter, email, and everywhere else they possibly can? Do you really think that Luke Bryan wanted to become a singer so he could sell tshirts and everything else they can think of to put his name and picture on? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Luke actually likes to sing and loves performing, otherwise he could have had a very lucrative career as an Abercrombie and Fitch model and been home a lot more. The less money the music makes, the more Luke gets to pound the pavement selling tshirts and appearing in seemingly every single city and town in this country. But no worries, I’m sure he gets at least two hours of sleep a night – on a moving bus.

      Now that I’ve made you feel guilty about abusing Luke Bryan, let’s move on. Back to one of The Beatles for a moment. The song most closely associated with John Lennon is “Imagine.” One of the lines in that song says “imagine no possessions.” I can imagine no possessions. What I can’t imagine is no music. Imagine life without your ipod, your iphone, XM Radio, car radio, your computer, stereo equipment, television, concerts, and anywhere else you can hear music. You may not even realize how important music is in your life until it just isn’t there one day. Apparently most people think it’s important enough to steal. Music has become a necessity. The songs are life’s essential elements. We all have songs we like to call our own. They mean that much to us. Songwriters, singers, musicians and producers spend their lives creating the songs we love and the majority of us now thank them by stealing their life’s work. Buying an occasional concert ticket or tshirt (when it’s legit) does not fully compensate them for the music. If we go back to the subject of possessions, which would you rather have – the tshirts or the music? All that merchandise will someday end up in a landfill. The music won’t. Songs become a part of who we are. The music will stay with you long after that tshirt is worn through or too small. Go to the concerts and support your favorite artists as often as you can. But more importantly, BUY THE MUSIC! A value cannot be put on a great song. It would be different for every person. To those who make the music, it’s invaluable. Certainly a great song is worth $1.29. Think about how easily we spend money on things that are gone in an instant. The music will last. Records are the best bargain out there. What else can you buy for the price of a record that could possibly last as long and mean as much?

      Don McLean is an American folk singer who wrote another iconic song back in 1971 called “American Pie.” It is ranked at #5 on the list of 365 Songs of the Century. The line most commonly recalled from this song is “the day the music died.” The lyric in this song refers to the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper (Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr.). This was a big loss for the music industry at that time and many people felt this very personally. For Don McLean, he lyricized it as “the day the music died.” You can’t call yourself a fan of someone and then rip off their music. If you love the music – respect it enough to pay for it. If every future generation continues to steal the music, the next song written about the day the music died will be one you’ll never hear.

           From WAY North Of Nashville………Bev Miskus

Note: It wasn’t until I finished writing this that I discovered “Imagine” and “American Pie” were both written in 1971. February 3rd of this year marked the 55th anniversary of that terrible plane crash. What country music fans may not know is that Buddy Holly’s bass player at that time was Waylon Jennings. At the last minute, he gave up his seat to The Big Bopper. To read the fateful words that were exchanged at that time, click on the link below to read the article. All these guys were on tour in the Midwest that winter and as the article will tell you, touring wasn’t always a glamorous thing.

http://ultimateclassicrock.com/buddy-holly-richie-valens-big-bopper-killed-in-plane-crash/

 ©2014Bev Miskus